More than 20 years ago, Michael Jordan switched directions on a layup in mid-play, solidifying a win for the Chicago Bulls.
That same kind of spin-o-rama, desperation move to keep a game alive and make a statement about a player's versatility and quickness became the difference in the Chicago Sky's 70-68 buzzer-beating victory over the Phoenix Mercury.
Despite the Mercury's Diana Taurasi sitting out the game with a WNBA suspension after nine straight technical fouls, the Sky trailed and battled most of the evening. It became a race between two of the "Three To See"--#1 Draft pick Brittany Griner of the Mercury and #2 Elena Delle Donne for the Sky, moving back and forth against a packed Allstate Arena. The Sky had strong first quarter performances from Epiphanny Prince and Delle Donne, but trailed 18-21 going into the second quarter. In the second, the Mercury went up ten points just below the halfway mark, but the Sky chipped away at the lead.
By halftime, the lead was just four.
The Mercury started the second half on a 9-4 run to put them ahead 49-40. Phoenix and Chicago battled back and forth before Griner picked up her fourth foul with two minutes to go in the quarter and headed to the bench with the Sky down seven. Tamera Young came off the bench and hit two straight field goals to bring the Sky within in three points. A Mercury field goal in the late seconds gave the visitors a 60-55 lead heading into the final quarter.
The Sky found themselves down seven with five minutes to play and ready to stage a comeback. Griner committed her fifth foul and went back to the bench. The Sky took advantage again earning their points from the stripe. Down three with Sylvia Fowles at the line and the momentum swinging the Sky’s way, The Mercury called a timeout. Fowles hit one out of two to cut the deficit to two.
Then...as reported by the Chicago Tribune, the Sky found their way to the free throw line and guard Epiphanny Prince tied the game 66-66 with 2:11 remaining on a driving layup and made two free throws for a 68-66 to cap an 11-0 run and ignite the Allstate Arena. As the clock ran down, Prince was double-teamed and had no choice but to pass to Delle Donne.
Nail-biting seconds ticked away as Delle Donne struggled to hold on to the overthrown pass. She caught, dribbled, spun around and aimed at the basket.....with .001 left, Delle Donne's spin-o-rama desperation jumper not only sealed a tight game, and a come-from-behind victory, it also marked a sweep of their series with the Mercury.
As Patty Simcox whined in the movie 'Grease:' THAT WASN'T SUPPOSED TO HAPPEN!!
How'd it happen? Fowles explained: "They (the Mercury) must have known that the ball was going to Piph, and they kind of left Elena alone so the time started winding down so she had to make a move."
Delle Donne told ESPNW "I was actually being a decoy dribbling the ball away and she was going to get a flare screen to take the shot," she said. "But we weren't able to get into the play. Five seconds isn't that much time so at that point I decided I had to get a shot off."
The Sky (23-9) endured seven losing seasons before selecting Delle Donne second overall in this year's draft, one spot behind Griner. The former University of Delaware standout has averaged 18.3 points to rank among the WNBA leaders, transforming Chicago into one of the league's elite teams. They lead the Eastern Conference and have clinched home court advantage through two rounds.
Breathing a sigh of relief, Coach Pokey Chatman waxed philosophical. “It was nice to grind out a win, and that’s what we told the players. Obviously, we will go back and analyze the tape and break some things down, but it’s nice to have some high quality play going into the playoffs. I thought Phoenix battled. They were killing us in the paint. We got some deflections and steals and held them to eight points in the fourth quarter. I talk to you all the time, wanting to be more consistent defensively. You don’t accidently hold somebody to eight points, I think that’s a mind set, and I think that’s something we’ve got to string together, more minutes of that and trust that the offense is going to come.”
Other highlights of the night included:
- With 13 points and 12 rebounds, Sylvia Fowles achieved her 14th double-double of the season and her fourth career double-double against Phoenix.
- The Sky took down 32 team rebounds in tonight’s game, setting a new single season rebound record (1200).
- The Sky took down 27 defensive rebounds in tonight’s game, setting a new single season defensive rebound record (853).
- Delle Donne shot her 15th perfect game from the free throw line (4-for-4).
I've written much about what Delle Donne brings to this team, and compared her to Michael Jordan. Yes, she's that good. More importantly, she makes the players around her better. That sets her apart from most players in any league.
Ignoring any premonition, the Sky will next take on Angel McCoughtry and the Atlanta Dream at home on Friday night, September 13. It's the Sky’s final regular season home game and “Fan Appreciation” Night. Tipoff is set for 7:30 p.m. CT
“The support from the fans has been tremendous. I know there are Sky fans in the stands and watching from home that continue to cheer no matter what,” said Delle Donne. “I’m glad we will get to give them the spotlight on Friday. It’ll be a fun night.”
Stay tuned to Token Female for my analysis of the Sky's chances in the playoffs...coming your way! The WNBA playoffs are set to begin next Thursday, September 19. Teams will be determined officially at the end of the regular season on Sunday.
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